La Vuelta de Barça 2018: The One Where They Ate Their Body Weight in Paella
After the glorious success of last years tour to Paris, Nomads embarked on another summer adventure, this time to Barcelona and with hopefully a similar level of success on and off the pitch.
Standards also needed to be kept up in and out of the bar and with at least a few misadventures and incidents that I will only be able to allude to on a family friendly Korfball club website. (Feel free to ask those involved for the details...)
Our planned tour party was Nick Williams, Alex Smith, Alex Bell, Ollie Bell, George Rourke, Terry Forde, Sam Lee, Dan Crenol, Anna Rivers, Georgie Booth, Bex Humphries and Emma Carswell.
The majority would leave on Thursday afternoon, Alex Bell and Georgie would join us on Friday morning and Dan was hoping to get over ASAP after running a school trip.
George had prepared a worryingly organised and sensible itinerary of Korfball through his contacts out in Catalonia and plenty of 'personal time' around it to enjoy Barcelona to the full.
The Tour WhatsApp group had ensured we all knew roughly what we were meant to do and where we were meant to be during the weekend.
So naturally, before we'd really begun, Terry went to the wrong terminal at Gatwick (following a clear and obvious misdirection from Bex) to get us off to a good start. Eventually, all of us flying out on Thursday managed to assemble in the same place and for the first time that I can remember, I wasn't pulled at security for an extra check.
Once through security, the traditional tour shirt handing out ceremony occurred. A hotly anticipated event, as everybody finds out what horrendous nickname they have to wear on their backs for the weekend.
The nicknames comprised of the usual range of in-jokes and mild bullying over previous incidents and you can attempt to decipher them for yourself from the list below...
Nick Williams - LA BARBA Alex Smith - SPF 50 Alex Bell - BALCONY PATROL Ollie Bell - CATCHING CRABS George Rourke - ANKLE SWINGERS Terry Forde - LEARNER Sam Lee - TAKING (1 4) THE TEAM Dan Crenol - DOORMAT Anna Rivers - ROOM SERVICE Georgie Booth - DAMAGED GOODS Bex Humphries - REVIVAL SAUS Emma Carswell - BAA-SWELL
Inevitably, as we were flying EasyJet, the flight was delayed as we had to wait around for our flight crew. Although this had one positive in that it gave everyone a chance to mock young Alex for his expensive duty-free headphone purchase.
An uneventful flight passed with a bit of turbulence to wake everybody up towards the end and we arrived in Barcelona ready to find the apartment and get on the beer and paella.
After a painful argument about whether we should get the bus, the metro, or both into the city, we eventually bundled into two taxis. Anna successfully counted up to nine in Spanish to order the correct number of taxis but the steward organising the line just responded with "Ah, Nine" in perfect English, which resulted in much laughter from the rest of the group.
As far as I can tell, my taxi was perfectly normal, driven quite aggressively but otherwise fine and we didn't crash, unlike a taxi I once took in Bucharest. So, all good. The taxi with the rest of the tour party, however, had a lunatic female driver who had taken a shine to Alex Smith and spent a large part of the journey trying to teach him Hakuna Matata, in Spanish. No, I don't know why either. And Alex didn't manage to get her number... (This lesson also appeared to come with a twenty euro fee on top)
Still, we'd made it, we were on tour. Nothing else will go wrong! We settled into our excellent apartment, divided the beds between couples and those who didn't mind a bunk bed, checked out the view from our balcony and got told about the 900 Euro fine for noise complaints... The partying at the apartment will be somewhat toned down from Paris then...
We headed out to find food and booze and after discovering that everywhere near the apartment was rammed, we convinced a small bar to move some tables outside for us. Paella was taken, and those who ordered the "Big Mug" of beer were ridiculed for being big mugs. They probably had a point...
Young Alex was on his first tour and as the baby of the group at 18 he got his first insight into the mature attitude of the tour by being peer pressured into downing two drinks in quick succession. One of which was 7%. And fair play to him, he succeeded. He also claimed not to get hangovers which is a brave announcement on a Nomads tour...
A beer or six later we were off to bed and ready for Friday, the only day of the tour with some serious Korfball as we were due to match up against the Catalunya National team in the evening.
A gentle day needed, we embarked on a relaxing stroll down Las Ramblas to take in the sights with a diversion through the food market and then down to the marina and the big moral question of the afternoon: do you have a beer or a cocktail before training and playing with the Catalunya National Team? This is the team who finished third behind The Netherlands and Belgium in the last European Championships and therefore a team who will be quite good at Korfball. Life is full of big decisions. Some did partake, some didn't. (Suffice to say that our first goalscorer later that evening had been one of those who indulged in some alcohol so it must have helped!)
Having seen the sea, the group elected to head off and try to eat most of the contents of it with an epic lunch of seafood paella, calamari, swordfish etc in a restaurant recommended by our apartment owner. It was an excellent recommendation and we needed every ounce of energy later that evening to compete with our new Catalan friends.
Georgie & Alex arrived via a hellish combination of broken planes, delays and noisy hen parties just in time to make the journey to Castellbisbal and the sports hall. We had a bit of disaster here with Ollie and Terry claiming that the gate had "eaten" their tickets and we ended up boarding a train one later than we had planned.
Upon arrival, we met the Cataluyna team and spread out amongst their cars for the short journey up into the mountains to the sports complex. In one of the cars, it emerged that some of them thought we were the actual England Korfball team, rather than a team from England on a jolly up that had eaten their own bodyweight in paella a few hours earlier. Corrections about us being the England team were made and we kitted up to begin our training session.
The fact that standing still resulted in sweating was not filling the group with too much confidence. Still, the training was fun if hardcore and I enjoyed the few fleeting moments of feeling on a level with top international players. We ended the training part of the evening as a collective sweaty mess and with an hour of Korfball to come, it could have gone quite downhill. Fortunately, despite lacking the ego needed to big ourselves up at all we are actually all reasonably competent at Korfball and after getting up to the speed of the game we put in a very respectable performance... 11-4 down after the first twenty minutes, 21-7 after forty and 29-10 at full time. Not bad at all when you consider our season ended months ago and for some of us that was in student or local league Korfball whilst our opposition is about to participate in a major international tournament.
Having started on the bench, I decided to try and film the first Nomads goal, this was an abject failure as when Anna joined the international goalscorers club I was fumbling around trying to get my phone to start recording again. Sorry, Anna! It was a fabulous goal though. Other highlights were a buzzer beater from Ollie Bell taken from so far downtown he was nearly back on Las Ramblas... Terry subbed himself on and immediately scored one of his under the post shots and the other goals came from Sam Lee and George Rourke with two each, Alex Bell and a runner from Bex that definitely wasn't cutting.
We posed for post-match pictures, wished our hosts' good luck and showered (some Snapchatting as they went!) and changed for the journey back into town.
The final match highlight, however, was the revelation on the train home from Alex Smith... He'd had to play the last ten minutes or so as a girl due to Anna being injured and after being soundly done by his opponent, the Cataluyna coach called him over and told him that, it's OK, "You can go 100%"... As it happened, he already had been and still couldn't stop her...
Back in the apartment we got stuck into a few beers and found out the news that Dan Crenol, who was going to join us late was stranded with his school trip in a broken down coach somewhere near the Lake District. This meant no Korfball tour for him, but luckily still has the tour top as a bittersweet memento.
Being the kind and generous souls we are, we decided we'd club together and repay his part of the accommodation bill since he wasn't going to use it. Being the childish and mocking types we also are, everyone's payment reference was a joke about Dan. I think Emma Carswell may have had the best one, but it was a strong collective effort. Better luck making it out next year, Dan!
More drinking followed until one by one the tiredness hit and people retired to rest their weary legs. Or in Terry's case, lie there moaning about the heat whilst monopolising the one fan in the room...
With breakfast taken we headed back into the city. Saturday's cultural fix included a visit to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's (not Gandhi Alex) as yet unfinished architectural wonder. The other wonder of this visit was a fellow visitor succeeding in getting the whole tour party into quite a nice group photo.
An ice cream/ice lolly break followed before lunch at a ridiculously good burger joint near the apartment to fuel up for the beach Korfball with one of the local sides, KC Barcelona. Another slight issue occurred when we went to the wrong beach and nearly passed out in the heat before we had even played any Korfball.
As it turned out, the posts were permanently installed on the beach and our new friends were easily located and a successful afternoon of Beach Korfball ensued. Followed by jumping into the sea to play a game that mainly seemed to involve lobbing the ball at Georgie's head.
We'd agreed to meet KC Barcelona for a nights drinking so it was a taxi race (Top Gear style) back to the apartment to wash off all the sand and sweat before kicking into the ridiculous stock of booze acquired from Lidl. Bex had organized a 'SOUNCLASH' game where we had to guess each other's music choices with the only clue being the three questions we'd all answered (1. Favorite Latin-Pop song, 2. Your Walkout song 3. The song that was #1 when you were 14). This was an amusing background to the drinking only ruined by me forgetting which Shaggy track was Number 1 on my 14th Birthday and the crushing realisation of how old some of us are now...
It then emerged that we'd pre-drank before the pre-drinks as we met the KC Barcelona crew in a huge bar and were told that this was where we would load up on cheap booze before hitting a nightclub till dawn. Raucous drinking games and general stupidity ensued before we all drunkenly made our way to a massive nightclub and scattered ourselves accidentally around its many rooms. Memories get hazy at this point but suffice to say the dancing was awful (in fact I have recollections of the girls teaching Alex Smith how to dance) and we eventually fell out the door around 5am.
Stumbling home via the Barcelona equivalent of a kebab shop and sneaking back into the apartment as quietly as 11 drunks could we collapsed into bed, another fine day of tour complete.
I awoke to a silent house around 1pm and assumed everyone had gone to Park Guell as per Georges itinerary without me. I was wrong. I emerged into the living room to the scene of a thousand hangovers from the rest of the tour party and tales of a comedic incident after one member of the group was woken up by a roommate that can't really be explained here! Bodily fluids were involved.
A hangover curing lunch was sought out and demolished and we eventually made it to Park Guell, admiring yet more Gaudi architecture and climbing to the top for some stunning views of the city.
We then revisited the original plan for Thursday night before our flight delay and went up to Mirablau, a bar with an incredible view of Barcelona from an even bigger hill. The hangovers crept away as the cocktail menu was attacked almost as aggressively as our Instagram accounts were updated with pictures of the exceptional view.
We then returned back to the city for another paella overload before heading back to the apartment to tidy up and reminisce over the weekend.
Terry the Truffle Pig is a children's' book that may never get written but "Spanish with Anna" is provided great amusement as she tried to book cabs to the airport without knowing much of the language and with the rest of us trying to make her laugh. She sort of succeeded though.
We awoke to a biblical thunderstorm which is still the only rain I've seen in two months and soon realised that though we had managed to book two, there was only one taxi coming. Through a combination of the Metro and people desperately hailing another Taxi from the roadside, we all reassembled at the airport in time for our obviously delayed flight home. No further dramas we wearily said our goodbyes and set off on our different routes home. Well, everybody else went home, no doubt to sleep or eat and recover... I went straight to a job interview and then did the night shift at work, proving that stupid decision making is not just for Korfball tours...
After the success of Paris last summer, Barcelona certainly lived up to the expectations.
Huge thanks to everybody who helped organize the trip, particularly George for all the contacts and the itinerary and congratulations to everybody who has made it to the end of this epic write up.
There's no doubt that there are plenty more stories to be told from the trip that I've forgotten but for now, adéu!